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The journalists killed by FARC in Ecuador

Two journalists and a driver of a daily paper “El Comercio” were killed by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in Ecuador. 36-year-old Javier Ortega, 45-year-old Paul Rivas and 60-year-old Efrain Segarra were missing since March 26, when they went to the Esmeraldas province to write a report on the deteriorating safety situation on the border with Colombia.

 

No proof of life

– I deeply regret to inform that we have no proof the are alive. We can confirm the death of our citizens – announced Lenin Moreno, the President of Ecuador. He shortened his stay in Lima during the Summit of the Americas due to the tragic events. – Because of the respect for the lives of our dear journalists, we were extremely tolerant and stopped the rescue operation that we had previously ordered. We were willing to sacrifice so that our citizens would come back alive, but we could not carry on.

The kidnappers demanded to exchange the journalists for three prisoners and to terminate the drugs prevention agreement between Ecuador and Colombia. However, the President claimed they did not intend to release the journalists. The kidnappers just wanted to gain some time. Lenin Moreno, willing to regain the death bodies, asked the Church and the International Committee of Red Cross for help.

Walter Patricio Arizala Vernaza alias “Gaucho” is responsible for the death of these three Ecuadorians. The government put him on the list of 100 most wanted men and offered over 100,000 dollars reward for help in capturing him. “Gaucho” answered by kidnapping Katty Vanessa Velasco Pinargote and Óscar Efrén Villacís Gómez from Ecuador. Most likely it happened last Wednesday. “Gaucho” group used WhatsApp Messenger to send a video showing the kidnapped pair. They had used WhatsApp to negotiate with the government in case of the journalists as well.

– Mister President, we beg for help. Please lend us a hand. We do not want to share the doctors’ fate – claims the missing man recorded on the video.

First a trader, then a criminal

Walter Patricio Arizala Vernaza is about 27 years old and was born in Limones, Esmeraldas Province. He had been a trader until he was recruited by FARC in 2007. He was taking part in operations in the north of Ecuador and in the southern part of Colombia, where numerous coca fields are located. He has known the drug business quite well and when the government announced the peace agreement with FARC, Vernaza decided he would not hand off his weapon. Approximately 250 people joined him. He became the leader of Oliver Sinisterra’s self-proclaimed front. Vernaza described it as a living FARC group.

Ecuadorians heard about “Gaucho” last October, when the police killed five coca farmers in the rural areas of Tumaco, Colombia. It is estimated that about 16% of coca fields is located there. According to Luis Carlos Villegas, the Minister of Defence of Colombia, “Gaucho” controls this area forcing people to work and helping them in coca cultivation. Next cocaine is exported, in cooperation with the Sinaloa cartel, to the United States and to Central America via Ecuador. Vernaza’s group can earn up to 25 million dollars a week.

Ecuador on the radar

At the beginning of 2018, Vernaza started to be more active in Ecuador. On January 27, he attacked the San Lorenzo police station in Esmeraldas Province. 28 people were injured. On March 20, he blew up a military truck near the Colombia border and killed three soldiers.

The Ecuadorian police searched 91 houses located near the border and arrested 8 people suspected of cooperating with the “Guacho” group. Ramillo Mantilla, the chief of police, claimed that 43 people were detained, including the relatives of Vernaza, during last three months.

However, it is possible that this is just the beginning of the drug war in Ecuador, which has not had experience in such cases so far. American dollar is the official currency in Ecuador, which enables money laundering and sending it abroad.

President Moreno, trying to prepare for the worst, announced earlier this week that the United States, China, France, Spain and the United Kingdom will share their experience and technology to help his government fight against the organized crime.

The photo was taken in Colombia.

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